Yorkshire firms must keep investing and innovating as they prepare for Brexit

Yorkshire firms must keep investing, innovating and rewarding skilled staff to ensure they are well-placed to face the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, a major business event was told.

A panel of experts provided insights into what steps they believed businesses should be taking to ensure they are ready for Brexit.

The event – Twelve Pay Packets Until Brexit – was organised by Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and held at the Knowledge Transfer Centre at The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing, which helps manufacturers become more competitive by introducing advanced techniques, technologies and processes.

A number of the speakers acknowledged that the uncertainty caused by Brexit was making some bosses more cautious about investing for growth.

Philip Webb, who is the chief operating officer at Team Action Management, said he expected to see a slow transition towards Brexit.

He added: “It won’t be one ‘big bang’ event. It will be a series of events that will affect all of us in slightly different ways.

“The headwinds are really around the uncertainty..The sentiment of uncertainty prevents investment decisions from being taken, and that in turn, weakens the customer demand and that in turn weakens the economic performance of your company and the economy generally.

“So sentiment is one of the biggest issues that we face in the next 12 months.”

Another speaker Dean Turner, the economist at the UK investment office of UBS Wealth management, said Brexit would also give the UK the chance to consider ways of boosting its productivity.

He told the 100-strong audience: “There is so much we can do here to improve opportunities.”

Mr Turner said that economic growth was driven by a number of factors, including improvements in productivity.

He added: “What the UK does have is a long tail of productivity. This should be a real focus, and perhaps Brexit will actually shake the UK into thinking about fixing what ails the economy at home.

“If the UK can actually make some progress on lifting productivity in some of the poorest performing regions and some of the poorest performing sectors..over a period of 10 to 15 years the impact that would have on economic growth, and the opportunities for exports for UK companies would be immense, and could potentially offset any impact we are likely to see from leaving the EU.”

Jillian Thomas. who is a former President of Sheffield Chamber and the managing director of Future Life Wealth Management, said that many FTSE 250 companies are now sitting on a “dramatic” amount of cash.

“They are not investing; they are not creating future jobs, they are not creating future GDP because there is no clarity over the direction of travel on Brexit.

She added: “We estimate there is about £3 trillion of cash currently held in quoted companies in the United Kingdom which is not being invested for potential future growth.

“You know there is a problem when the dinner party moves from conversations about buy to let, and how many houses you’ve got and the equity you’ve got, into ‘how good the performance has been on my ISA’.’ That’s what we are seeing.”

Also on the speakers’ panel was Tom Goodwin, the assistant director, World Trade Organisation, from the Trade Policy Group at the Department for International Trade and Kathleen O’Donnell, a manager at Fragomen LLP in Sheffield.

The event was chaired by Greg Wright, the deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post.